Dr Shanom Ali - Clinical microbiologist 

My day starts...

With porridge and a cup of tea at my home in rural Northamptonshire, around 100 miles north from London. I take the train into London every day.

What does a microbiologist do?

In a nutshell, our team tries to capture and identify microbes that may cause infection and then suggest ways to prevent and control its spread to others. We focus on the “patient environment” – i.e. drinking/ bathing water, air quality, everyday surfaces that we touch, medical instruments etc. The job draws on skills from many disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, healthcare…essentially problem solving.

What does a typical day entail?

One day I might undertake diagnostic work to test water samples to ensure there are no signs of legionella or pseudomonas. The next I could be researching which types of bed rails or keyboards have the most effective antimicrobial properties against MRSA and E.coli and which cleaning strategies to employ.

On another day I may be trying to bring C. difficile spores back to life from inside a 400-year old mummy that was found perfectly preserved in the Korean Permafrost.

I also enjoy teaching students/ trainees from nearby UCL, where I am associate professor of microbiology and I also lecture at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

What might surprise our readers?

The design of everyday objects like basins, taps, showers, toilets, bedrails and everyday surfaces can really help stop infections spreading. They can be a hotbed for microbes. The shape of a hand basin or the intensity of a toilet flush can minimise the risk of contaminated water splashing on a person and spreading disease, for instance. Over the past ten years, I have worked on prototypes with academic colleagues and private manufacturers to bring new products to the market. These have varied from developing plasma gas jet-streams that disinfect hands to self-cleaning glass for iPad tablets; introducing robots that disinfect patient rooms; and using ultra violet to keyboards that self-clean when exposed to daylight.

What do you love about your job?

I am passionate about trying to make the world safer and turning an idea into something. For example, we are in the race to find new antibiotics. We are working to find new medicine and develop new ways of delivering antibiotics so they are more effective in healing infection. Microscopy is so fascinating; I rather like studying fungi infections – they are quite spectacular when looked at under the microscope, full of tiny detailed structures!